I’ve been writing quite a bit about the over 50’s of late – about age discrimination, pension problems and caring responsibilities.
Women in their 50’s may have just about survived the childcare years through a policy of winging holiday childcare and flexing in every possible way like one of those bendy long dolls. They are likely to have been the ones to take the main earnings hit for flexibility.
They are also likely to have reduced their pension payments, possibly thinking they could increase them down the line. That line may have been somewhat longer than anticipated and they may now feel they will never catch up as they face the prospect of potential higher education support and boomerang kids.
Age discrimination means many in their 50s, having come through the wringer of childcare, school runs, school holidays, being talked down to at work because they have taken a lower responsibility job for flexibility, being generally made to feel less for the mere fact that they need to pick up their children and not leave them lying in the street somewhere, will face problems picking up the reins of their career again when those practical issues have diminished. Of course, it will depend on what line they work in, but it is likely any flexible working they have done in order to keep some skin in the game will be counted against them in the competition for higher level jobs.
And on the horizon looms caring responsibilities. Given they have most probably already kissed goodbye to at least some of their ambition in the childcare years and given social norms, it is likely women will be again the ones who will be first in line to take on these responsibilities, particularly the more onerous ones.
Having bent over backwards to continue to work and earn because they are well aware that taking a career break would make things significantly harder, they face more of the same. Because, despite the fact that we are supposedly all in this family thing together, some of us are asked to make more compromises than others. Until the structures and attitudes that support this imbalance are unpicked, women will continue to find themselves backed into a corner for most of their working lives.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.